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FRA issues safety advisory on flat switching hazards

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Friday issued an industry-wide safety advisory about hazards associated with handling rail cars during flat switching operations.

Since 2009, six railroad employees sustained fatal injuries while placing themselves between unsecured rolling equipment during switching operations, including one employee who was killed last year, FRA officials said in the advisory.

In a flat switching operation, cars are diverted to the proper track to complete a train either by manually "kicking" or "shoving" them to couple. An investigation of one of the six fatalities identified switching yard characteristics that might increase the risks of unsecured rail equipment rolling back onto an employee if an irregular grade is present in a flat yard, FRA officials said.

During kicking operations, employees are at greater risk if a car doesn't couple securely with other cars already resting on a destination track, they said.

"Kicking rail cars is efficient but it can also have significant consequences if rail carriers don't have operating rules to safeguard employees to ensure that kicked rail cars are securely coupled," said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo.

In 2010, the FRA released recommendations developed by the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis Working Group (SOFA) that have been adopted by individual railroads in their operating rules. The advisory suggests that railroads review and follow SOFA recommendations previously set forth in a 2011 FRA safety advisory and, where conditions exist, develop operating rules that better safeguard and advise employees.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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